Food & Water Watch, Consumers Union, and the Center for Food Safety signed a petition asking the FDA to assess the salmon as a food additive, rather than as a new veterinary drug, as the agency has so far been doing.
The fish, developed by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies, is Atlantic salmon given the growth hormone gene of the faster-growing Pacific salmon, along with DNA from the eel-like ocean pout. The company claims that the resulting AquAvantage salmon reaches maturity at twice the rate of normal Atlantic salmon, and requires 25 percent less food.
This is the first time that the FDA has considered the safety of genetic engineering in animals intended for human consumption, and it has no specific framework for doing so. Therefore the GE process is being assessed by its Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee through its animal drug approval procedure.
George Kimbrell, Senior Attorney for the Center for Food Safety said: “FDA’s choice to allow the first proposed transgenic animal for food to somehow only be review as a drug is contrary to law, science and common sense. Public health and transparency should be championed, not skirted, particularly when contemplating such an unprecedented approval.”
The groups’ petition claims that although Atlantic salmon is recognized as safe, the genetic modification process renders AquaBounty’s salmon significantly different, and it – and its components – therefore should be assessed as a new food additive.
AquaBounty told FoodNavigator-USA in an emailed statement that the petition was an attempt to “delay and undermine” the approval of any genetically modified food.
“The New Animal Drug regulatory process is the result of the government's more than fifteen years research into the best possible and most transparent method to regulate transgenic animal applications,” it said. “It considers safety to the animal, safety of the animal as food, and safety to the environment. It is far more rigorous than the food additive process or GRAS processes which primarily look at food safety.”
It added that an unintended consequence of consumer groups’ efforts could be that the growth of the technology is driven overseas.
It added: “Currently, the US imports 95% of the Atlantic salmon consumed. Approval of AquAdvantage could signal America's leadership in this technology, enabling production of Atlantic salmon in the United States, reducing our dependence upon foreign imports, and providing much needed food security and economic benefits.”
This is not the first time the FDA’s method for assessing the salmon has been questioned. In September 2010, 11 senators signed a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg urging the agency to find another way to assess the safety of GE salmon.
And in a parallel move, 24 members of the House of Representatives signed a similar letter to Hamburg asking the FDA to halt the approval process.